Review: My Name is Rachel Corrie (Hart House Theatre)

Young American activist’s life, ancient disputes, revisited at historic Toronto theatre

My Name is Rachel Corrie is a controversial play that recently played at Toronto’s Hart House Theatre. It is a one-woman show with Amelia Sargisson starring as Rachel Corrie.

Rachel Corrie was a woman in her early 20’s who moved from Washington State to the Gaza Strip. Her overall goal was to make the world a more peaceful place. Her immediate goal was to stop the Israeli bulldozing of Palestinian houses.

After a brief time in that troubled part of the world, Corrie was run over and killed by a massive bulldozer. Some eyewitness accounts say she was deliberately run over. The official story is that it was an accident.

The play was taken from Corrie’s writings. It was edited by Alan Rickman and Katharine Viner. The play has been very controversial; My Name is Rachel Corrie has been cancelled in numerous countries before opening. Some prestigious Canadian companies have followed suit.

With that sort of history, mounting this play can only be summarized with one word: Fearless.

Sargisson, of course, shows tremendous courage by playing the role of Corrie. I also thought she did a great job of painting a picture of Corrie. She makes Corrie seem focussed and determinedone-dimensional. Corrie comes across as an entitled child, a spoiled brat, a rebel without a clue. Perhaps a more polite word for Corrie is naïve.

That Sargisson can stir those sorts of emotions in me, for a person I know very little about is remarkable.

Director Mumbi Tindyebwa Otu, along with the rest of the production crew, has done a great job. They turned the stage of Hart House Theatre into something that is part Lego set, part sandbox. The stage strikes me as more similar to the Stonehenge scene in the movie This Is Spinal Tap than a trip to Chichen Itza. I thought this effect was perfect.

I also thought that Corrie walking through the audience near the end of the play was fantastic. It was really hard to hear Sargisson at times. I think this made sense. Corrie’s voice and words seemed to be lost on a huge part of society. It did strike me that the less I could hear the words, the more I could feel the passion and emotion of Sargisson.

I really like that plays like My Name is Rachel Corrie can still be mounted in Canada. I’m just not so sure that Corrie’s writings justify a one-woman play. There isn’t enough substance for me.

It would be great to include some of her colleagues. For me, taking Corrie’s words as gospel seems contrary to what she may have intended with her actions. When there is no gray area, there is no discussion. Her writings are of great interest to her “fans”, it’s not enough material for a play.

I think bringing in a few more characters would add so much to this play. Her colleagues and the eyewitnesses to her death most certainly have something to say that’s worth hearing. So too would the bulldozer driver. Including these voices in the play would be invaluable.

I also think that some perspective on the situation in that part of the world would also add a lot. Even something as simple as an info table in the lobby would be invaluable.

I really do think Otu and Sargisson are fearless for mounting My Name is Rachel Corrie. Both have a tremendous future ahead of them.


-photo of the set of My Name is Rachel Corrie by Daniel Di Marco